Owner: New federal regulations will hurt trucking business

News-DemocratJuly 22, 2013 

A Belleville trucking company owner expects his cost of business will increase with the new federal safety regulations that went into effect this month.

Bill Frerichs is the third-generation owner of Frerichs Freight Lines Inc. and said he's witnessed more regulatory changes during his tenure leading the business during the past 13 years than his father, uncle or grandfather did during the company's first 51 years.

He is especially concerned that these latest rules, which limit the average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the former 82 hours-a-week restriction.

Frerichs said he is not opposed to safety regulations. But he said these new hours of service limits are arbitrary and are being made "by bureaucrats that have never sat behind the wheel."

"It's not that we're against safety," Frerichs said. "I think we're against regulations that have been spelled out by people that don't know exactly what they should be doing."

According to the new regulations, truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 driving hours within a week can only get back behind the wheel of a truck if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights from 1 to 5 a.m. Truck drivers must also take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of each shift. Drivers are still limited to 11 hours of driving and a 14-hour work day.

Businesses that allow drivers to exceed these limits by more than three hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and drivers could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said these new regulations, which were first announced in December 2011, will ensure that all truck operators have adequate rest. In a statement released by Duane DeBruyne, Deputy Director of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Office of Communications, results from a study issued to base these new requirements reported that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of a serious crash.

The department estimates that these new regulations will save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year.

Frerichs said the new rules will hurt small businesses like his. He anticipates that he will have to eventually raise his rates -- a cost that will eventually be passed down the line onto the consumer.

"For us, I think the bottom line is eventually that it will take more trucks to haul freight," he said. "It will take more trucks and more drivers to haul freight. And if it raises costs on our end, we're going to pass that cost along to our customers, who eventually it will make it to the store shelves, to the gas stations and the consumer will be paying increased prices on milk, bread or whatever. So instead of getting the job done with 10 drivers, it might take 11 or 12."

The safety director from another larger metro-east trucking company is going to reserve judgment.

"We really don't have a lot of data on it yet to comment on it right now," said Steve Bremer, of Beelman Trucking Co. in Alorton. "Obviously there are changes and there will be some repercussions, but to what extent, I wouldn't want to answer that now."

A safety compliance administrator from Gordon Trucking Inc., a national trucking company that operates a terminal in Pontoon Beach, is also not sure how the new rules will affect its business.

"It's too early to tell," said Scott Graeff, of Gordon Trucking. "We thought we might have to change rates, but a lot of stuff I'm hearing in the media is that this will create a shortage of drivers. That doesn't mean it won't come, but it's too early to tell."

The National Federation of Independent Business is currently working to build a coalition to advocate for small businesses like Frerichs' that fear what those repercussions might be. Federation assistant state director Mark Grant said many of the recent regulations have erroneously become a "one-size-fits-all" remedy.

"It doesn't matter if you're a trucking firm, the size of your bills or if you've have 300 rigs in the road, the regulations are pretty much applied across the board," Grant said. "And for the most part, our members, small businesses, we want to adhere to the rules. We want to be able to follow the rules. But often times they're very confusing. If you've got a small operation, you're doing everything yourself. So it becomes a lot tougher for the small independently owned business to keep up on all of the changes and then to try to make changes in their own business to accommodate those kinds of things."

"People who haven't sat behind the wheel can't make the best decisions about what we're supposed to do."

"There is no one-size-fits-all," Frerichs said.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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